After yesterday's loss to the Yankees, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire might have experienced a little deja vu. It probably was not because the Twins seemingly always lose to the Yankees, no, it was because the current 2012 Twins roster should remind him a lot of the group he managed in 2006.
The Twins won the American League Central Division in 2006. Justin Morneau won the American League MVP, Johan Santana won the Cy Young Award and Joe Mauer became the first American League catcher ever to win the MLB batting title.
The team finished the year 96-66 and eventually were beaten in the ALDS by the Oakland Athletics, three games to none.
So the comparison I am trying to make is that this 3-8 Twins team is similar in makeup to the 2006 team that had the MVP, Cy Young winner and batting champion. Huh? Let's clear up a few things at this point before this comparison gets too crazy even for the most die-hard Twins fan.
This year's Twins squad does not have a pitcher anywhere near as dominant as Santana was in 2006. Quite simply, Santana was the best pitcher on the planet at the time and there is no one on the 2012 Twins who can come close to repeating his performance that year.
The 2012 Twins do have Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer—just not the 2006 versions of these players. At this point, The M&M Boys themselves probably do not know if they are still the All-Star players they were just two years ago before injury and inconsistency sidetracked them.
The Twins are also without the service of just about every other valuable piece of that team. There is no Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel. In fact, only six players from the 2006 team remain: Mauer, Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Glen Perkins.
So where is the similarity?
On June 7th of 2006, the Twins were 25-33, 11 games out of first place and struggling to find an identity after veteran pickups like Juan Castro, Ruben Sierra and Tony Batista did not work out as planned. At this point, General Manager Terry Ryan and Manager Ron Gardenhire made the decision to emphasize defense to back up their only strength at this point: pitching.
Inserted in the lineup were players like Nick Punto, Jason Bartlett and Jason Tyner. It was a risk, seeing that these players could not be counted on to produce offensively like the players they were replacing, or so everyone thought.
What happened next was so amazing that Ozzie Guillen gave it a name: "The Piranhas."
The piranhas, or little piranhas, described the way Punto, Bartlett, Tyner and Luis Castillo played that season. Each player was good defensively and that season they used their abilities to get on base and speed once they were on base to manufacture runs. Simply by being able to get on base, these players at the top and bottom of the order were almost always in scoring position for the big bats of Mauer, Morneau, Hunter and Cuddyer to drive them in.
This year's Twins can operate much in the same way as those 2006 Twins. Denard Span, Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla and Ryan Doumit/Ben Revere can certainly play the role of piranha as well as Punto, Bartlett, Tyner and Castillo.
We also have seen the run-producing punch the middle of the lineup can provide with Mauer, Morneau and Josh Willingham. The key will be run production out of players like Danny Valencia and Ryan Doumit to even out the order.
In 2006, starting pitching was not the Twins' strong point, even with Santana winning the Cy Young Award and Liriano being untouchable before being lost to injury. Pitchers like Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza all contributed to the winning season but were average at best.
Other than Liriano, the 2012 Twins starting pitching has been surprisingly good. The obvious difference is the top-end starter like Santana, but solid performances from pitchers one through five could make up for this difference.
The biggest difference between the two teams at this point is the bullpen. In 2006, Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain and company were one of the best, if not the best, clean-up crews in the major leagues. It is hard to say that a team with Matt Capps and Glen Perkins can do the same sort of job, but it is a long season and moves will be made to make sure leads are protected in the late innings in 2012.
The 2012 Twins seem to be more on the same track as the 2006 Twins than the track of the 2011 Twins. The early-season struggles of the team have much more to do with trying to find rhythm and confidence after a disastrous 2011 season than being a continuation of last season.
Ron Gardenhire definitely has a big job ahead of him. As of today, Gardy is not seeing the results he thought he would be getting when the Twins left Fort Myers, but patience and belief in the Twins way of playing baseball will go a long way over 162 games.
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